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Posts Tagged ‘lessons

It is time for a curmudgeonly rant.

Some schools and parents here seem to have forgotten to teach kids the basis. I am not referring to the three Rs.
 

 
What happened to speaking in hushed tones when in a shared or public space?

We already live in cramped environments in Singapore. This alone is a good reason for not talking loudly during conversations over a meal or when packed on public transport. A lack of volume control reveals a lack of self-awareness and is inconsiderate to others who do not want to be audience to your conversations.

What happened to taking care of personal property?

People routinely leave their bags and computing devices in fast food joints or coffee places. The onus is not on others to look after your stuff; it is yours to care enough to leave someone behind or to take your things with you.

There is a reason why they are called valuables — someone had to work hard to make the money so that you have that personal property. Be grateful, not careless.

What happened to taking care of shared property?

There is no learning if kids know how to return food trays in school but do not consistently do this at a mall eatery. There is no care if you use a toilet properly at home but somehow lose your aim and decency in a public restroom.

And yes, this rant is fresh. I am drafting this at a Starbucks while surrounded by people who talk loudly and who have left a handbag and two computers at their tables. There is no toilet at this establishment, but there is one a stone’s throw away. Someone decided to pee in a sink.

Maybe I should create an option in my education consultancy called Human Decency 101. But here is the sad news: If you need it, it is probably too late.
 

There are many fallouts from local shared bike company’s (OBike’s) withdrawal from the market. The one that seems to concern users is the inability to get a refund of their deposit when they first signed up.

I am not sympathetic to those users because the company offered to return the deposits last November. I know because I was also a user of those shared bikes, made a S$49 deposit, and got it back when I read the notice.

You would need to have been illiterate, blind, or deaf to miss that message. The offer was made six months ago and they have had all this time to get their money back.

Even more serious than the inability to read, see, or hear the news is an indifferent mindset. We have only ourselves to blame if the warning signs were there, but we chose to ignore them.
 

 
Something similar could be said of teachers and constant change. Rarely does a policy or practice sneak up on you. If you cooperate, collaborate, and communicate, you should sense the changes coming. You can then prepare for them by changing behaviours in advance.

We cannot expect our children and students to be have “growth mindsets” or to exhibit “grit” if we ourselves do not possess these traits and model them.

Values are more CAUGHT than they are TAUGHT.

I reflect today on what started as a Pokémon raid battle and ended up being a symbolic battle between wilful ignorance and informed decision-making.

I tweeted this a few days ago in the aftermath of an Absol raid.

Absol.

An Absol is a Pokémon that you can catch in Pokémon Go (PoGo) only in four-star level raids. This means that they cannot be caught in the wild. So when one appeared on my game’s gym radar, I made the effort to get to it.

I have since been in two Absol raid battles, but there was a common pattern to both.

Despite its rarity, the Absol does not seem to be as popular as the current legendary raid boss, Groudon. While the Groudon can attract multiple teams of 20 players each, the two Absol raids I participated in drew six and four players respectively — barely enough for narrow victories.

Groudon.

I did my homework before battling. Against an unfamiliar enemy, I got information from websites (like this), YouTube videos (like this), and the Poke Genie app.

I found out that Absol was susceptible to Pokémon that were good fighting, fairy, and bug types. I prepared a raid party to take advantage of Absol’s weaknesses.

Absol counter raid party.

At my first raid, I was one of six who cooperated to take the Absol boss down. I fought in a non-team gym and was the only one carrying my team colours. This meant I would not get the gym bonus and was unlikely to get damage bonus.

When the battle started, I noticed that my fellow battlers were using the strongest possible “brute force” Pokémon they had, e.g., legendaries like Lugia (which has psychic movesets that Absol is resistant to).

The Pokémon types and movesets might not matter very much in a group of 20, but I found out how important they were in smaller groups. I topped the damaged-inflicted list in both battles against Absol because I optimised the Pokémon types and movesets. This was despite being the unique one of six, and in my second raid, one of four in the battle group.

After the first battle, I savoured my victory quietly in a shelter nearby. However, my reflection was soon broken by a PoGo uncle arguing with a younger PoGo player. Perhaps “arguing” is the wrong word — they were just talking very loudly and kept repeating themselves.

The uncle cited what he had heard others say, what he believed in, and what always worked for him in other battles. His younger counterpart asked questions, and cited what she watched and read.

It was like Uncle Rock meeting Hard Place Girl. Neither seemed to be able to convince the other. This was a PoGo battle in which both opponents thought they were the boss, but no one was going to win.

In the end, it was a symbolic battle between wilful ignorance and informed decision-making. Both are common enough in daily life and in work. Applied in a game, wilful ignorance just hurts the player. Applied to the life and work of a teacher, for example, wilful ignorance hurts children for years to come.

It does not take playing a game like PoGo to make this realisation about wilful ignorance. It should not. But I see this still happening in our class and tutorial rooms. This strengthens my resolve to keep battling such weakness with informed decision-making in 2018. Though difficult, I am still going to try to catch ‘em all.

Like jet lag, some takeaways from my recent trip to Amsterdam only just hit me.

Take trash days for instance. I opted to stay in someone’s entire apartment and we had to take bagged trash out to the street every Tuesday and Friday. There were no trash bins on the road, but everyone seemed to understand the importance of preparing and arranging the trash responsibly.

The instructions to use the washing machine in the apartment were in Dutch. This was despite the assurance I got from owner that they would be in English. Thanks to a speedy Internet connection and phones, we got translations on the fly.

Collectively, these reminded me that some of the best ways to learn are by embedded experience, close observation, and just-in-time information.

Coffee sign.

Before my trip, I read about the differences between coffee houses vs cafés. If I wanted actual coffee, I had to visit a café. Marijuana was sold at coffee houses.

Lesson? It is one thing to read or hear about coffee houses vs cafés, it is entirely another see — and smell — the differences in person.

Bonus factoids and still open questions:

  • During my trip, I was told by a guide that Amsterdam had the highest per capita coffee drinkers. I took that as fact. Now I realise that I should have asked him which plant was involved.
  • I also discovered that quite a few cafés and eateries play reggae music. I do not know if this is a homage to pot culture.

Yesterday I shared some simple and general things I learnt from my visit to Amsterdam. Today I share what I learnt about the people I met and even those I did not meet in person.

The Dutch seem to possess a dry wit. I know this from the way street artists and window dressers expressed themselves.

The people I dealt with — from the public transport ticket agent to the sandwich lady to the SIM card guy — were very direct. Their mindset could be represented by this sign I saw at a knick-knack shop: Be nice, or go away.

Sign: Be nice, or go away!

I was nice, so I did not go away. But in being nice, I used phrases that did not work. For example, I revisited a sandwich shop that I chanced upon and discovered that the friendly old man was replaced by a seemingly uptight lady.

As I was there at opening time, I asked, “Are you open for businesses?” The lady replied, “Well, the door is open.”

Me: I mean… Are you ready to serve?

She: Let me wash my hands.

Me: (Waiting silently, looking at all corners of the store)

She: (At the sink area) You can order. I am not facing you, but I can hear you.

I made conversation about meeting the old man who told me that they were going to sell piccante, a spicy meat. I ordered two piccante sandwiches and my wife wanted two small slabs to bring home.

While the sandwiches heated up, the lady cut a few slices of piccante for us to nibble on.

I not only learnt where the best sandwiches in Amsterdam were, I also learnt how to be more direct with the Dutch.

The Dutch in the service industry were also prompt. Very much so.

I only exchanged emails with the host of my apartment. He said that he only had a landline, but I suspect that my emails to him were rerouted through an app on his phone or computer. Our email exchanges quick that they felt more like being on WhatsApp.

I also emailed the Van Gogh Museum because I wanted to get tickets in advance. I had an I Amsterdam card that allowed me to get into the museum for free. However I noticed that:

  • There was an online time slot booking system
  • People queued to get tickets in one line
  • The same people queued again in another line to get in
  • Some people used their phones to skip the first line

I wanted to know if I could get a mobile-based ticket by choosing time slot online with my I Amsterdam card. I emailed the museum and got a reply. The bad news was that I had to queue twice. The good news was that the reply arrived within an hour.

Some folks here take pride in being efficient or productive. I challenge that notion with the museum example. I also provide evidence of how slovenly we can be by comparison.

Upon returning to Singapore, I learnt that my telco had disabled access to my account information. This was true for the mobile app and the web-based portal.

StarHub app access denied.

I emailed my telco three days ago and have not received a reply. Not even an acknowledgement.

In learning about others, we learn about ourselves. When we look in that mirror, do we like what we see? Do we do something positive about it?

I like travelling because it is an opportunity to get out of my comfort zones — physical, mental, cultural, etc. The dissonance makes me learn.

Here are some things I learnt from my trip to Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Several Instagram embeds to follow.
 

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Signs that you are in #amsterdam

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I learnt that mobile tethering is not blocked in the Netherlands because of a law:

Due to the Dutch net neutrality law, VoIP and tethering will not be blocked and traffic will not be prioritized.

We are spoilt in Singapore as tethering is a given. However, even infrequent travel overseas has taught me that this practice is a rarity.

When we arrived at our apartment in Amsterdam, I got to try two new iOS features: 1) Using the camera to scan QR codes at the back a router, and 2) quickly sharing the gobbledygook wifi password with iOS and MacOS devices.
 
QR codes at the back of router.

This meant that just one person needed to scan the code to join the WiFi network. When others wished to join the same network, the first person would receive a prompt to tap on to help the rest join.
 

We stayed in a four-storey apartment and climbed the famously steep Dutch stairs inside the apartment several times a day. (Side note: The photo above is not of our apartment stairs, but of the main Public Library of Amsterdam. My visit to this library deserves an entry of its own!)

I had heard about the steep apartment stairs, but not experienced them first hand. The stairs are more like spiral or near-vertical ladders. With the equally famous commute-by-cycling, it is no wonder that the locals looked fit!
 

I also noticed that most of the apartments and offices had no curtains. We were able to admire the interiors of homes and offices from the streets and canals. We were able to look right through our immediate neighbour’s apartment to the next building which also had naked windows.

The large windows let the natural light in and this probably helps with warming the place and keeping the mood up. The openness also allows people show off their interior design and/or keep their rooms neat.
 

Most museums in Amsterdam offer audio devices as guides. The Rembrandt House Museum not only offered multiple languages, it also had a kids version. It was storytelling at its best and I wonder why they even bother with the adult version.
 

I already know that Google Maps is the best friend of the independent traveller. I discovered that Amsterdam is one of the rare cities where the shortest travel time often is by bike or on foot, then tram or bus, and finally by car.

Tomorrow I share some things I learnt about the Dutch people.

Yesterday I recounted two examples of how administration disables when it should enable instead. Today I outline a recent incident and suggest how administrators can change for the benefit of all.

Recently one of the projects I had started working on stopped because administrative issues. Long story short: Old school rules were applied to new and uncertain efforts, and both my client and I have to start from the beginning.
 

 
After this happened, I had a chat with one of the administrators involved in the process. Her concerns were no different from the ones I have met before in my current line of work (education consultant) and former work (professor and head of department).

I made a few recommendations and I pick three of the best looking fruit.

  1. Change mindsets of your staff.
  2. Always ask why.
  3. Document meaningfully.

The mindset that needs to go away is the single-minded pursuit of efficiency and productivity, and living only by the letter of the law. It is the mindset of administration that disables by getting in the way. The old mindset needs to be replaced with one that enables by doing what is ethical and logical.

One way to change mindsets is to always ask why an existing policy exists and why someone the administrators are serving is frustrated or wants something done differently. Perhaps the old rules do not apply or the context has changed. Asking why first and taking a stakeholder’s perspective will help reveal the need for change.

Administrative offices are not immune to people that come and go. When people leave, they take their implicit knowledge and good practices with them. One way to prevent this is practising knowledge management, e.g., meaningful documentation.

This means turning what is internal to external forms, e.g., Google Doc records, departmental wikis, video interviews, etc. These references are not just useful for the induction of newbies, they help in the clarification of existing tasks by current staff.

If administrators do these, they might just turn the overused reset or panic button into a power button instead.
 


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